Thursday, October 15, 2015

State Department Releases 2014 International Religious Freedom Report

Yesterday the U.S. State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014.  The Report details the state of religious freedom in each of nearly 200 countries. Each country report contains 4 sections: religious demography; status of government respect for religious freedom; status of societal respect for religious freedom; and U.S. government policy.

Both Secretary of State John Kerry (full text) and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein (full text) delivered remarks at a news conference announcing the release. Ambassador Saperstein summarized the report's findings:
A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report. The first one ... is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.
In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam.... Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology. It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.
Secondly, the impact of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and in a number of others – as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense.... The existence of such laws has been used in some countries as pretext to justify violence in the name of religion to create an atmosphere of impunity for those resorting to violence and/or leads to false claims of blasphemy.
Third, repressive governments routinely subject their citizens to violence, detention, discrimination, undue surveillance, for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community. We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience..... Many governments have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life.